Pronouns are more important than you think.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. … I fear no evil. … Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” – Psalm 23
I have been learning about pronouns lately, how some people stick with the “she” or “he” they’ve had since birth but others prefer “they” or “xe” to reflect who they truly are. This makes sense to me. Identity is important, and pronouns are powerful.
But identity is about more than gender, and some pronouns remain universal. Think “I,” “me,” “my,” “you,” “we, “ours,” and my personal favorite: “y’all.”
Therapists encourage us to make “I” statements, the better to take responsibility and facilitate understanding. But when it comes to matters of belief, first-person pronouns can leave us feeling more fraudulent than faithful, less certain of what we claim than profoundly aware of how preposterous those claims are.
When I can’t find a job, does it help to identify as a sheep? When it seems the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, how can I not fear evil? As I’m being transported to the hospital by ambulance, do I really think goodness and mercy are along for the ride?
Yes, there’s the live-it-as-if-you-believe-it approach, the fake-it-til-you-make-it method or, if we’re feeling poetic, Rilke’s hope that we will “live along some distant day into the answer.” But sometimes only second-person pronouns will do. They allow us to receive what we can’t proclaim. So, hear this, sweet lambs:
God is your shepherd. You have all you need. When you walk through deep valleys, even as you approach death’s door, you need not fear—for God is with you. God showers you with love; your cup overflows. Goodness and mercy will follow you—yes, you!—all the days of your life. And you will dwell in God’s heart forever.
May your truth comfort me, O God, even when I can’t quite believe it. Amen.
Vicki Kemper is the Pastor of First Congregational, UCC, of Amherst, Massachusetts.